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Preview: Comments on: My Uncle Napoleon

Comments on: My Uncle Napoleon

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

Last Build Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2018 17:10:00 +0000


By: davidsmall123

Sun, 24 May 2009 18:24:13 +0000

Sorry - here's my comment. I thought the book was a sleeper as well. Will check out the Night Owl. David

By: davidsmall123

Sun, 24 May 2009 18:23:27 +0000

oops - didn't mean the 'x' - having problems submitting Arrest Inquiry

By: davidsmall123

Sun, 24 May 2009 18:22:32 +0000


By: nother

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 06:12:09 +0000

I was hoping to get someoneâ€(image) s opinion here. I reached page 300 in this book and canâ€(image) t get motivated to continue. As I read I canâ€(image) t stop thinking about the TV show "Dynasty" or the show "Keeping Up Appearances", the follies and tribulations an upper class family. I realize this is the biggest selling book in Iran but I also realize that Danielle Steel sells a lot of books in America. While I like some of the characters, such as Asadollah and Aziz, I donâ€(image) t feel I know Iranian culture any more than before. I donâ€(image) t hate the book and if I hear an interesting perspective on it, then I will forge ahead in reading it. I might just need to open up my mind some more.

By: gltuujavs

Tue, 16 Jan 2007 08:18:35 +0000

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By: hurley

Thu, 21 Dec 2006 20:10:17 +0000

Zeke: Flattered that you sought out The Blind Owl on my recommendation; delighted you liked it. Thanks for mentioning it.

By: zeke

Thu, 21 Dec 2006 14:46:54 +0000

I just finished Hedeyat's The Blind Owl, which Hurley recommended. It is, indeed, a wonderful contrast to My Uncle Napoleon. I can't tell what to make of it: Hallucination? Opium vision? Allegory? Revolutionary tract? This thread, and exposure to these books and films makes me ponder the way in which we learn about a culture through seeing the kind of things that appeal to them as much as through the specific content of the art itself.

By: zeke

Thu, 14 Dec 2006 02:51:32 +0000

A wonderful movie, The Children of Heaven is the flip side of My Uncle Napolean. Earnest where the book is sardonic. Affirmative where the book is ironic.

By: Potter

Mon, 11 Dec 2006 15:20:41 +0000

plnelson- I think you discount the effect of propaganda. I can't say anything about the DVD that awaits my attention but I will mention it: "The Children of Heaven" by Majid Majidi. Also on my "to watch" list "the Color of Paradise" by Majidi. Mynocturama and slavophiliac, thank you for the recommendations.

By: slavophiliac

Tue, 05 Dec 2006 02:50:10 +0000

If Iranian films are being mentions I hope the Makhmalbaf family (Samira, Mohsen) gets some mention as well. In relation to the book the film "Gomgashtei dar Aragh" by Bahman Ghobadi shares a similar sense of the absurd.

By: plnelson

Fri, 01 Dec 2006 23:47:19 +0000

canâ€(image) t say I agree with that. democratic nations get the governments they deserve. Syria, Egypt, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, China, Iraq, Sudan. None of those regimes would last six months if there was serious, majority lack of support at the grassroots level. Look at Poland, East Germany, USSR, Czechoslovakia, etc. Regimes that collapsed with hardly a shot being fired. All the soldiers and secret police and bureucrats that keep places like that going are ultimately drawn from the population as a whole. Don't confuse having a few prominent dissidents with widespread grassroots opposition. "The masses" in most countries are essentially conservative. I think the problem that Americans have is that they can't believe that the average man in the street supports the government in some of these places. This is a very narrow culturally-biased opinion. China is a good example - Most Americans say "Of course China will soon ditch their one-party rule and become a democracy now that they've tasted capitalism and prosperity. Most of the Chinese I've talked to doubt this very much because generally people are pretty happy with the way things are going.

By: tina marie

Fri, 01 Dec 2006 22:05:42 +0000

Re: Often when I travel abroad people say to me, “I donâ€(image) t hate the American people - itâ€(image) s just your government I donâ€(image) t like.” And I tell them to get a clue: nations get the governments they deserve. can't say I agree with that. democratic nations get the governments they deserve. Syria, Egypt, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, China, Iraq, Sudan. These aren't democracies. America of course does have the government it deserves.

By: plnelson

Tue, 28 Nov 2006 18:01:43 +0000

"The guests on the recent show about Syria stressed the importance of distinguishing between the regime and the people." I don't accept that old canard. Often when I travel abroad people say to me, "I don't hate the American people - it's just your government I don't like." And I tell them to get a clue: nations get the governments they deserve. In most cases the government really does reflect the character and values and preferences of the people. The American governemnt doesn't care about global warming because the American people pursue lifestyles based on bottomless appetites for fossil fuels. The American government is up to its ears in debt, and guess what? So is most of the American public. The overwhelming majority of the US population supported the invasion of Iraq. Et cetera. While Iran is an imperfect democracy and Syria isn't a democracy at all, even in most nondemocratic regimes people find ways of making their feelings felt. I'm not aware of any strong evidence that Iranian or Syrian officail policies, say, WRT support for terrorist groups, are at odds with most popular sentiment in those countries. Somwhere there might be some dictatorship so throrough and autocratic that it blithely pursues policies that are totally at odds with the preferences and values of its people. A dark and cruel bloodthirsty tyranny that rules over happy, compassionate, peaceful citizens. But if you bet that way most of the time you'll lose. What is more likely is that those Iranians who are moderate and peaceful and cosmopolitan (e.g., Marjane Satrapi) are as unrepresentative of their societies as I am of American society.

By: hurley

Tue, 28 Nov 2006 17:33:16 +0000

A great Iranian novel (novella) more or less contemporary with My Uncle Napoleon, though of a very different stripe, is Sadeq Hedayat's The Blind Owl. Hedayat a tragic figure, but he left behind this remarkable book. Sartre and Nafizi among its admirers. There is at least one translation in print, and this apparent act of love online: Both rough to my ear, but then I don't know Farsi. (Always too easy to denigrate the translation.) Recommended in whatever version.

By: mynocturama

Tue, 28 Nov 2006 17:12:59 +0000

I'm not sure about that one allison. He (Kiarostami) has made quite a few films that haven't been released theatrically here. I would say that probably his most accessible film, and most successful (I think) here in the US, is "Taste of Cherry," from 1997. I definitely recommend it, and should be relatively easy to find on DVD, for an Iranian film at least. "Close Up" is another of his I'd recommend, but it might be a bit tougher to find. It's story involves, if I remember correctly, a person pretending to be another prominent Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Apparently this really happened, and the actual people involved, the imposter and the family he lied to and took money from, themselves act in the reenactments of events that actually happened. Plus there's real footage of the actual trial interspersed throughout. It's rather confusing while watching but definitely worthwhile. I suppose you can see it as a sign of a high level of sophistication in Iranian culture. And it sounds like My Uncle Napolean is similarly self-reflexive and layered, though I haven't read it yet.

By: zeke

Tue, 28 Nov 2006 13:51:58 +0000

I finished My Uncle Napoleon over the weekend. It was a rollicking Opera Buffa of a book, and I am glad I read it. A sprawling plot (though largely confined to one cluster of homes) and a wide array of characters make me wonder how it can be translated into compelling radio for an audience that, for the most part, will not have read the book. I think mynocturama may have an answer: broaden the show to a discussion of Iranian art under the theocracy and its reception by the public. One of the benefits for me of My Uncle Napoleon was pleasure simply from learning that this kind of book (and TV show) was so enormously popular in Iran. I am encouraged to learn how much people there respond to these absurd but very human characters. The guests on the recent show about Syria stressed the importance of distinguishing between the regime and the people. As Americans this is especially difficult because we have a political establishment that has an interest in portraying a frightening monolith and a cultural establishment that acts as if it couldn't be bothered. We need to search out books like My Uncle Napoleon. A few specific aspects of the book that could be explored and discussed effectively by experts in a way that would give a flavor of the book for people who haven't read it might include: 1. The manner in which fantasy slides into perceived reality for individuals and groups without their being aware of the process. 2. The transition from comedy to pathos. Best exemplified by the change in people's responses to Dear Uncle as the petty tyranny resulting from his delusions shifts into genuine self-destructive paranoia. 2. That being laughed at is the greatest fear of petty tyrants. (Plenty of examples both from the plot and from the history of the book's reception.) 3. The main way the narrator learns things is by eavesdropping and spying. Until the very end (a truly moving conversation between the boy and his "Uncle" Asadollah) the LEAST dependable sources of information are the things people say directly. 4. On the surfce Uncle Napoleon's paranoia about the English might be taken as a mirror of our own fears of "Islamofacists." But on closer examination the differences are more revealing. Although the book had many very funny moments, at 500 pages and with a clunky translation, it did not flow for this western reader the way it apparently does for Iranians. So this too could be a topic of discussion: how do we learn about a foreign culture when our experience of it is by definition altered through the process of translation? I don't think Greta is correct in suggesting that the book tells us much about the history of Anglo-iranian relations, but I think it does tell us a lot about the aftermath of colonialism and its lasting effects on the psyches of people. If you choose to focus on this aspect of the book --and goodness knows it is an important topic-- you might want to consider bringing on Stephen Kinzer to recount the amazing story of the US led coup that toppled the Mossadegh government in 1953. In my reading of his account, it oculd be argued that our own country's paranoia about Communism led to our becoming the dupes of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Our CIA staged a coup that the British goverment had refused to undertake. If it weren't so tragic, one might almost think it a high-level variation of the plot of My Uncle Napoleon.

By: allison

Mon, 27 Nov 2006 22:17:16 +0000

"...filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami..." Did he make that hauntingly beautiful film about an election in Iran?

By: mynocturama

Mon, 27 Nov 2006 16:52:17 +0000

Hope you guys find time to talk about Iranian cinema too. If the intention is to get some sense of the culture, and not just to discuss this particular novel, filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, at least, deserves mention. But maybe Iranian film warrants a whole show to itself (hint hint, nudge nudge...)

By: Willfro

Thu, 23 Nov 2006 14:44:29 +0000

Haven't picked up the Uncle Napoleon yet, but when I saw the words comedy, sex and Iran, I immediately thought about Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries, a very funny little non-fiction comic about the sex lives of Sartrapi's grandmother and her friends. Quite racy, and very different from how I imagined old-time Iran. It's about 150 pages, so you could demolish it in an afternoon.

By: zeke

Mon, 20 Nov 2006 02:48:19 +0000

Hurley notes the euphemism for sex in My Uncle Napoleon (which I just purchased today) as being "going to San Francisco." In Zadie Smith's On Beauty (which I just finished yesterday) a couple uses "going to Florida" for the same purpose. I look forward to reading this book and to the show.

By: hurley

Fri, 17 Nov 2006 15:23:29 +0000

Er, that should be: His Monkey Wife. A good thing I'm not married. Carl Van Vechten another old favorite (Parties, Peter Whiffle, The Blind Bow Boy, among others).

By: hurley

Fri, 17 Nov 2006 11:19:11 +0000

Yes, what a wonderful idea. It's a great book (I wish I still had a copy), on many levels, also technically. Observe the ingenuity with which the author contrives to put the narrator ever on the scene -- a grand joke in itself. And the euphemism for sex ("going to San Francisco") lives on, in this household, anyway. Given the success of the last reading list, maybe this would be the place to list great comic novels? My Uncle Napoleon up there on mine. Two other favorites: Cards of Identity, Nigel Denis My Monkey Wife, John Collier I look forward to the discussion, and to the show.

By: Sutter

Thu, 16 Nov 2006 23:16:08 +0000

What a wonderful idea. I had put it on my holiday list but I've been looking for an excuse to just buy it. I guess now I have that excuse.